About our Founding Chairman

Arthur Liman’s passion for social justice for the poor, for people with alcohol and drug problems, for people with HIV disease, for people with criminal histories and for everyone else was second to none. Inspired by Arthur’s legacy, the Legal Action Center continues to fight discrimination at every level of society, to pursue enlightened public policy, and to help people reclaim their lives and maintain their dignity.

To honor his memory and his selfless commitment to both the public interest and the law, LAC proudly launched the Arthur Liman Policy Institute in November 1998. The annual Arthur Liman Public Interest Award honors significant achievements in the fields of criminal justice, HIV/AIDS, and addiction.

On the 25th anniversary of the Legal Action Center, Arthur was too ill to attend the ceremony, but sent this message:

“When we founded the Legal Action Center 25 years ago, we chose a pretentious name. The runners-up were Organization for Good, Organization Against Social Injustice, and We Are on the Side of the Lord. Though we reduced the rhetoric in our name, the alternatives still fit! We selected timely causes that do not have other champions, we have been willing to take our cause to court and have an enviable record of success, but we have also been eager to be participating in the policy debates that lead to rational non-vindictive regulation. And we have done this on shoe-string budgets.”

From Arthur’s book Lawyer: A Life of Counsel and Controversy (1998, Public Affairs):

Todarthur limanay, little known though the Legal Action Center still is to the general public, we provide legal counseling to thousands of clients a year, but unlike most advocacy groups, we also combine litigation with programs of public education and cooperation with government agencies. We have even helped draft legislation and regulations. Our philosophy is to try to work out the problems we take on through ingenuity and persuasive reasoning, but if that fails, to litigate.My private practice is obviously a world apart from that in which the Legal Action Center’s clients live and struggle, and it has given me no exposure to the acute problems people with drug or alcohol histories or HIV/AIDS face every day. So I’ve given the Center my time and help over the years with an enthusiasm tempered by the realization that the law and lawyers can bring about change only in small increments, and that there will always be far more to do than has already been done.

Arthur L. Liman received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1954, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and received his law degree at the top of his class from Yale Law School in 1957. Immediately upon graduation from law school, he joined Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, eventually becoming a partner of the New York-based firm.

In addition to his trial work, Mr. Liman developed a long record of public service. In 1972, he was chief counsel of the New York State Commission on the Attica Prison uprising. From 1983 to 1985, he was a member of the New York State Executive Advisory Committee on Sentencing, appointed by then Governor Cuomo to recommend revisions of the state’s system for sentencing offenders. In 1987, he served as chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and Nicaraguan Opposition (the Iran-Contra Committee). He was Chairman of the Appointments Committee for Mayor Dinkins and was the chairman of a panel appointed by Mayor Koch to investigate the conduct of the Medical Examiner’s office.

Mr. Liman served, at the appointment of the Chief Judge of New York, as chairman of the Capital Defender Office, which has the responsibility of organizing and providing the defense for indigents in capital cases. He began his government service as an Assistant United States Attorney to Robert M. Morgenthau from 1961-1963. Mr. Liman also was a member of the Board of Overseers at Harvard from 1988-1994, as well as the 18th president of the Legal Aid Society from 1983 to 1985.

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